Ferguson's formula
September 10, 2013 11:55 AM   Subscribe

Before retiring in May 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson spent 26 seasons as the manager of Manchester United, the English football (soccer) club that ranks among the most successful and valuable franchises in sports. During that time the club won 13 English league titles along with 25 other domestic and international trophies—giving him an overall haul nearly double that of the next-most-successful English club manager. In 2012 Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse had a unique opportunity to examine Ferguson’s management approach and developed an HBS case study around it. Now she and Ferguson have collaborated on an analysis of his enormously successful methods.
posted by criticalbill (17 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fascinating stuff, thanks for posting it.

Not sure how much of that would be useful for other people doing other jobs though - Ferguson is an exceptional person in an exceptional position. For non-exceptional people it may be hard to benefit from his approach.
posted by YAMWAK at 1:48 PM on September 10, 2013


Great article. I am a bit disappointed that it didn't incorporate more of his time in Scotland as it would be good to see how these principles served him when he was making his name and how he adapted over time.

I was going to say something about his European record being not that great but apparently he is 2nd as far as managers in the European Cup/Champions League are concerned, and right up there for all European competitions combined as well (Wikipedia has him as 1st but includes the Super Cup which I wouldn't count). I'm also fully confident that if he was able to hold onto Queiroz then there would have been at least one more Champions League win (and it would have been dreadful, but I'll take a dreadful win over the two losses suffered against Barcelona). Mourinho or Guardiola may eventually top him, but they may not as well - being a manager of a top club takes its toll and I could see either of them call it a day if their current jobs don't work out.

I'm actually hoping that Harvard is able to muster its resources and give us a Ferguson clone. It would be nice to see the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup, but a Ferguson clone is the only way I see that happening.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:48 PM on September 10, 2013


I'm sure Man U's secret medical centre has a few tucked away in vats. There's no surgery involved in cloning, right?
posted by forgetful snow at 1:53 PM on September 10, 2013


I thought this was interesting, but the article seems a wee bit vague. There are some key principles in operation, I suppose.

I was surprised when David Moyes brought in Everton staff and let Man U. staff go. I would think that a key part of the success at Man U. was the organization that Ferguson had built. Swapping out key staff seems antithetical to continuing success. It seems akin to a "corporate superstar" approach to management or even the swapping out of political appointees, neither of which seems very healthy in the long run for an organization.

I'm more curious in the technical details of how clubs are organized and run, and the specifics of training, etc., but clubs seem to treat that as mostly trade secrets. "Being Liverpool" had a fair few training montages, but you didn't actually learn much about how Brendan Rogers trains and organizes his team. There's a lot invested in the myth of Ferguson's "greatness", but this doesn't really help me understand it much more than a million Sunday opinion pieces.
posted by idb at 2:00 PM on September 10, 2013


Does anybody anywhere believe that this auccess was due to anything other than the deepest poxkets?
posted by BenPens at 2:04 PM on September 10, 2013


As I understand it, a football team's wage bill largely determines its finishing league position.

There are a very few managers who add value to their teams.

Ferguson was one of those few.
posted by criticalbill at 2:15 PM on September 10, 2013


I had a dream last night that Fergie married Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas. This has no relevance to the article, but I have to share. It was odd and troubling.
posted by arcticseal at 2:20 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Does anybody anywhere believe that this auccess was due to anything other than the deepest poxkets?

While United did break the British transfer record more than a few times, their net spend from 1992 is 4th, below that of Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool. Plus until 2001 or so they had a very tight wage structure. Deep pockets are important, but so is using the funds you've got wisely.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:25 PM on September 10, 2013


At the same time, in the dressing room, you need to point out mistakes when players don’t meet expectations. That is when reprimands are important. I would do it right after the game. I wouldn’t wait until Monday

He's not kidding. See the infamous post-match interview in 1983, after his Abredeen team won the Scottish Cup.
posted by Jakey at 2:28 PM on September 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does anybody anywhere believe that this auccess was due to anything other than the deepest poxkets?

If deepest pockets was all that counted, Real Madrid would have fared a lot better in European competition in the last decade. My Schadenfreude would have suffered significantly too.
posted by ersatz at 2:31 PM on September 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah yes, ersatz, but never underestimate the ability of Iberian institutions of all stripes to fuck up a good thing when they've got it.
posted by pmv at 2:53 PM on September 10, 2013


ooh, this is a good bit
Ferguson: No one likes to be criticized. Few people get better with criticism; most respond to encouragement instead. So I tried to give encouragement when I could. For a player—for any human being—there is nothing better than hearing “Well done.” Those are the two best words ever invented. You don’t need to use superlatives.
posted by pmv at 3:00 PM on September 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Youth academies at English clubs have largely been replaced with buying players from Ajax and Porto.
posted by PenDevil at 3:05 PM on September 10, 2013


Few people get better with criticism; most respond to encouragement instead. So I tried to give encouragement when I could.

True for dogs and children, too.
posted by notyou at 3:51 PM on September 10, 2013


Youth academies at English clubs have largely been replaced with buying players from Ajax and Porto.

And Arsenal.
posted by Dr. Zira at 7:24 PM on September 10, 2013


It's strange that Fergie's public image is one of dishing out the famous hair-dryer treatement, when he seems to be saying he's almost the exact opposite.

Could be that he's much misunderstood. Or it could be that like a lot of managers in business he's got a pretty distorted idea of what he actually does.
posted by philipy at 10:43 AM on September 11, 2013


I think it's more complicated than that.

It's been documented many times, including in the FPP article, that Ferguson felt he had to be the biggest personality in the dressing room. Given that he's worked with egos like Cantona, Keane, Stam, Ronaldo, etc, and given the manner in which each left United, it's pretty clear that there is a "my way, or the highway" mentality to it.
Yet many of those very same egos were defended vigorously be Ferguson when they crossed the line with competitors or the authorities. It's the classic siege mentality. He will defend you to the hilt as long as you are in the fold, and conform to his requirements. But it is his prerogative to lay down the requirements and have them met.
posted by Jakey at 3:31 PM on September 11, 2013


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